Caltrain loses bid for exemption from state environmental law on electrification project


Caltrain must comply with the state's environmental quality act in electrifying its rail system between San Francisco and San Jose, according to a July 2 ruling by the federal Surface Transportation Board.

The ruling is a setback for Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which runs Caltrain. In February, the joint powers board was sued by Atherton and two other groups saying the environmental report on the electrification project had been improperly approved.

The Caltrain board responded by asking the federal transportation board to declare it is exempt from complying with the state environmental act.

"We were hoping to expedite the process and save the cost and the delay of an expensive lawsuit," by asking for the ruling from the transportation board, Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann said.

"We are still fully in compliance with CEQA," she said. Preliminary work on the electrification project will continue," Ms. Ackemann said. "The only way that it will delay the project is if the judge orders a stay," she said.

Just months before Caltrain had asked for the ruling by the transportation board, in December 2014, the board had declared the state's high-speed-rail project is exempt from the same California environmental laws because the project fell under the oversight of the federal board, mainly because that project is expected to link to the interstate rail system.

In the July 2 ruling, however, the federal board said that it does not have jurisdiction. "Caltrain provides only commuter rail service on the line ... and operations of this sort are excluded from the Board's jurisdiction," the ruling says.

The ruling means the lawsuit can now go ahead. The lawsuit was filed in San Mateo County Superior Court in February by Atherton, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, a transit advocacy nonprofit, and the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, which is headed by former Atherton Mayor Jim Janz. The lawsuit asks that work on the project be stopped and the approval of the environmental report be rescinded, until issues raised in the lawsuit are addressed.

In February, Stuart Flashman, the attorney filing the suit, said the lawsuit is an attempt to force the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board to acknowledge the impacts the project will have on the Peninsula.

Atherton filed the lawsuit after its request to extend the period when the environmental report could be challenged was turned down by the Caltrain, which said "that time will not materially change the responses" to the town's concerns.

The lawsuit claims the environmental report is flawed in several ways, including its failure to address the cumulative impact of high-speed rail and electrification. The lawsuit says the projects must be considered together because approximately $600 million of the projected $1.5 billion cost of the electrification project is supposed to come from funding approved for high-speed rail by the voters in 2008.

Ms. Ackemann of Caltrain said at the time that Caltrain is "disappointed to see that rather than working with Caltrain collaboratively the town of Atherton has chosen this expensive path."

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7 people like this
Posted by NIMBYS
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 3, 2015 at 3:27 pm

NIMBYS are just trying to jack up the price tag of this project, which is coming out of your tax dollars

7 people like this
Posted by KT
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jul 3, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Build the damn thing already. Include the Atherton station.

4 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 3, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Caltrain electrification and HSR are both good things. It's time to build it now.

2 people like this
Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 3, 2015 at 4:31 pm

There is a more detailed article on this at:

Web Link

morris brown
Menlo Park

10 people like this
Posted by Peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 3, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Nimbys? What an odd thing to say. Not one member of the stb lives near the Caltrain right of way.

They voted that way because Caltrain is a local commuter railroad.

Ceqa applies.

"Reality check" fails.

Case closed.

4 people like this
Posted by Kathleen23
a resident of another community
on Jul 5, 2015 at 8:10 am

CEQA is meant to protect the environment required by the state of California. Caltrain followed it all the way to the end. Kind of late to ask for exceptions since a lawsuit was filed challenging their compliance.

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is a federal agency that usually votes in favor of railroad rights but this was clearly out of bounds under their jurisdiction. They voted in favor of declaratory relief for the high-speed rail project.

It has nothing to do with who lives where. The people who ride the train as well as the communities Caltrain goes through are entitled to protection of the state law.

6 people like this
Posted by local impacts matter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 5, 2015 at 3:56 pm

This makes sense to me: "the attorney filing the suit, said the lawsuit is an attempt to force the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board to acknowledge the impacts the project will have on the Peninsula." Our communities gain no value from HSR, and limited value from electrification because Caltrain capacity is limited far below projected demand.

The correct long-term solution is exactly what is done in Europe -- to underground these trains underneath residential communities like Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto. These are wealthy communities, the ground and air rights are incredibly valuable, grade separation would be accomplished. Bonds should be cheap with today's low rates. The biggest problem and hurdle are nearsighted decisionmakers.

Like this comment
Posted by Member
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2015 at 11:22 am

If Cal Trains won't improve, bring in BART.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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